CINCINNATI — Pick a moment. Any moment. The Twins' 4-3 victory over the Reds on Sunday was about as good as baseball gets, unless you have a strange distaste for dramatic home runs, plays at the plate, 100-mile-per-hour fastballs and situations where good players do what they do best.
Cincinnati superstar Joey Votto sent the struggling Twins to new levels of despair with a two-run, lead-changing homer off Scott Diamond in the eighth inning, but the drama just kept building at Great American Ballpark.
Aroldis Chapman, a Cuban lefthander armed with a 102-mph fastball, entered for the ninth inning, and Joe Mauer delivered one of the more memorable at-bats of his career, a 10-pitch battle that ended with a double off the left-field wall.
Then, Josh Willingham turned on a 97-mph fastball, smashing a two-run, lead-changing homer an estimated 438 feet to left field. It answered the Votto moment -- with an exclamation point.
With Twins closer Matt Capps headed to the disabled list, Jared Burton came on to earn his first major league save, overcoming two walks, and the Twins celebrated a victory that was as big as any they've had all year.
"We're going to have to win a lot of those games to get back in this thing and inch toward the .500 mark," manager Ron Gardenhire said of his 29-42 team. "It seems every time we take a step forward, we take one back. So you win a series here, end up 3-3 on the road against two really good baseball teams [Pittsburgh and Cincinnati]."
Diamond (6-3) got the victory after a tight pitcher's duel with Reds righthander Mike Leake. It was 1-1 in the sixth inning when Reds third base coach Mark Berry tried to get Jay Bruce home from first on Ryan Ludwick's double down the left-field line. The relay from Willingham to Brian Dozier to Mauer beat Bruce by about 10 feet, keeping the score tied.
The Twins took a 2-1 lead the next half-inning on Justin Morneau's RBI groundout, but Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips kept things close by throwing out Willingham at the plate following Trevor Plouffe's grounder.
That play loomed large when Votto connected for his 14th home run. The Twins were determined not to let Votto beat them, and to that point, he was 0-for-7 in the series. Diamond had struck him out twice, but with a 1-0 count, the lefthanded hitter reached down and lifted a 90-mph fastball over the left-field wall.
"We had him a little frustrated the first couple of at-bats today," Mauer said. "That's what good players do -- they come through in those situations. He hit a good pitch."
Mauer was talking about Votto, a fellow former MVP, but he could have been talking about himself. Mauer's at-bat against Chapman "was unbelievable," Gardenhire said.
The count was 0-2 after Mauer swung at missed at an 89-mph slider. But Mauer worked the count full, laying off three sliders and fouling off pitches clocked at these velocities -- 102, 100, 101 and 97 -- before drilling his double.
"That was fun to watch," said Willingham, who was standing on deck, getting his timing.
Gardenhire had Denard Span pinch run for Mauer, knowing a hit to the outfield could score the tying run, but Willingham did him one better.
Willingham likes fastballs, and Chapman threw him five of them, falling behind in the count 3-1, before grooving one that appeared to disappear off Willingham's bat, as it launched into the stratosphere before landing in the ballpark's second deck.
"When you stay short and stay on top of the ball, that helps you be able to hit somebody who's throwing 100 miles per hour," Willingham said. "Let him provide the power and just try to be short."
Sure, nothing to it.